by Vidyaratha Kissoon
“I kept talking, but like no one was listening to me, no one believed me.. I myself didn’t believe my own situation” the woman said.
She is an articulate advocate, warm and loving friend to many people.
The man who married her turned out to be abusive. She managed to leave.
“Fortunately, some friends stood by me.. others who I thought would know better, did not..”
Take a minute.. change a life..
World Suicide Prevention Day is 10 September and the theme for 2017 is “Take a minute, change a life. “.
The intention of the theme is to remind people of “our responsibility to look out for those who may be struggling, check in with them, and encourage them to tell their story in their own way and at their own pace. Offering a gentle word of support and listening in a non-judgemental way can make all the difference. “
Listening is a skill, and not instinctive for many people. The promoters of the theme say that the survivors of suicide talk about the role that good listeners helped in the interventions to prevent suicide.
Mental Health Therapy Daily..
I wondered what it would be like for someone looking for someone to listen in my community. I called the Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Public Health and they said the Health Centre should have someone.
There are a few people waiting in the Kitty Health Centre on a Friday afternoon. There is a nice breeze. The Health Centre is bright and airy. There are no signs or posters about mental health. There is a Verandah and at that time of the day , there is a nice breeze. It is the kind of verandah where you can sit on it and see the street, but the street might not see you.
I get to chat with one of the doctors who has been there for many years. We sit side by side. It is the kind of atmosphere that encourages chatting. Maybe there is something about our Caribbean where talking is perhaps easier to do in these open spaces, than in closed rooms with desks between people . Mark Jacobs writes about the chaos in another government building where listening is supposed to happen.
The doctor explains that the Kitty Health Centre has a pscyhologist and social worker. (Both were on leave at the time of our chat)
The doctors do preliminary assessments for people, and make referrals are done to the main psychiatric clinic at GPHC.
The doctor said that she thinks more people are coming forward as there is more awareness about
mental health issues. The doctors also watch out for signs as they discuss other illnesses.
I asked about flyers and posters to let people know about the services.
The doctor said that there was a small note on the schedule of services on the wall. I had missed the note “Mental Health Therapy Daily. As the doctor said, few people read things like schedules.
The doctor and I agreed that there should be more publicity so that people could know that there were people willing to listen to at the health centre.
I think about empathy and sitting side by side on the verandah of the Health Centre.
Listening to someone who might feel they are in a dark pit requires empathy. I had written before that empathy (inspired by Dr Brené Brown ) is not standing outside of the dark pit and throwing down slender ropes to pull out people who cannot find their way out. Empathy is coming down in the dark pit, saying ‘you are not alone’, and “let us see how we could work our way out together.”
Sitting side by side seems to be a nice way to initiate empathy.
I did not ask the doctor if the verandah was used for counselling.
“What is the meaning of your sign?”
The avenue on Main Street has some nice benches. Some of them are shaded by the trees in the afternoon sun.
It is not too busy. I sat with a sign ‘WILLING TO LISTEN TO YOU’ made out of recycled cardboard.
I have been uncertain about my willingness and ability to listen to people. I kept thinking of the Hurricanes, the devastation and the loss. I realise that the loss would bring trauma. I am nervous of platitudes and prayers which could be useless.
t is easy when listening, to jump in with nice words of encouragement which are not always needed. My mind is on how I communicate with those who have been waiting, and waiting again for damage and post damage. There is no way to know how to help from afar while waiting.
I try to imagine how that nice breeze could easily turn into a hurricane. Everything is nice and ordinary.
I sit with the sign.
Berlinda Persaud smiled when she saw the sign. She is active in community development work and has an interest in creative enterprises.. She realised that there were many issues that affected people and that people needed an ear sometimes. She took courses in Mental Health care and in Social Work so that she could respond better to people. We chatted about the importance of listening, and the difficulties sometimes. Some of her skills she had to use in situations which were not ‘formal counselling’ situations, and with people she least expected to use her skills with. She was able to reach out on social media to people she recognised were in crisis.
The breeze kept up nicely, fuelling the chat with Berlinda.
Some people passed and looked at the sign , and looked away. Others made eye contact and smiled. I said ‘Good afternoon’ to some – some replied, others did not.
Some looked sideways and smiled. Some walked up closer, looked and then walked away. One man asked “Do you speak English?” I explained that I was born in Guyana too but he did not look like he believed me.
A man stood near a car on the road across from where I was sitting. He was smoking. He looked at me, we made eye contact, smiled. He was puffing at the cigarette in a fast urgent way. He kept looking at the sign, looking at me. I shouted ‘You arite’ and he nodded ‘yes’.
A man who was dressed in dirty clothes asked him for his lighter. He took the lighter and walked away, ignoring me. The man near the car smiled at me as we contemplated the man in the dirty clothes.
The man in dirty clothes took the lighter and lit a cigarette.
He sat on a bench . A man passed him, saw my sign and laughed and said ‘You gah a listen to he..’
When I asked him what he meant, he ignored me and kept walking fast fast.
The man near the car was observing me interacting with the people who were passing.
The driver of the car came back. The driver was a short man. His face had some scars.
He jumped over the gutter separating the street from the avenue and walked towards me. His face looked serious.
‘Excuse me, what is the meaning of your sign?”
I explained about the World Suicide Prevention Day and the whole thing about listening. He said “Okay , Okay” and walked back to his car.
He didn’t look back.
Some school children passed. Some looked, smiled, laughed. One said ‘Oh.. he willing to listen to people’.
One boy said.. ‘He look like Mr Bean… “
Three young people came and asked what I was up to. I explained.
They asked to take a picture. I asked them if they were sure. I was wondered if putting a label ‘willing to listen to you’ wouldn’t expose them to comments about being crazy and having nothing better to do.
They were sure they wanted the picture, and to be identified with the sign.
We have to keep mobilising those who are willing to listen in places which are good for listening.
There might be better ways than sitting with a sign on the avenue to encourage people who are struggling to talk.
The Mental Health Unit, Ministry of Public Health
Available during week day office hours.
Tel 226-1402, 226-1405
Suicide Prevention Hotline
Telephone numbers (+592) 223-0001, 223-0009, 600-7896, 623-4444,
WhatsApp: +592-600-7896, 592- 623-4444
Help & Shelter
Available during week day office hours.